Responding to concerns regarding consumer privacy on HealthCare.gov, HHS implemented a new layer of encryption that reduces the information available to third party tools, director and marketplace CEO Kevin Counihan wrote on the CMS blog.
Last week, reports emerged that approximately 50 third-party connections are embedded in HealthCare.gov, largely advertisers and analytics sites. These third-party connections can see income, age, zip code and certain behavioral habits such as whether a person smokes or is pregnant.
Medicare spokesman Aaron Albright said the connections track the exchange's performance, and they are not allowed to use information gathered from the site for their own purposes. However, many are still concerned with the number of third-party connections as well as the overall privacy of personal information.
In the blog, Mr. Counihan explained, "We used some third party tools to do some important things, like to get visibility into when consumers are having difficulty, or understand when website traffic is building during busy periods….One of the most cost-effective and best ways to reach the uninsured is through digital media and advertising. To do this well, we have contracts with companies that help us to connect interested consumers to HealthCare.gov and continuously measure and improve site performance and our outreach efforts."
Mr. Counihan wrote that CMS launched a policy review of the online exchange upon hearing consumer concern regarding these third party relationships. While the review is ongoing, CMS has added another layer of encryption to the Window Shopping tool to further increase consumer privacy.
The Window Shopping tool is an online calculator allowing consumers to receive a cost estimate of a policy by entering zip code, income, age and whether one is a smoker, parent or pregnant. Previously, consumers' results were delivered with a URL that includes data entered in the calculator. With the new encryption layer, the URL prevents third parties from seeing the data the consumer entered.
"While we have taken steps to improve HealthCare.gov, we know building and maintaining a website is an evolving process. That's what we've done by reviewing the tools on HealthCare.gov and by adding a layer of encryption to the URL on the Window Shopping tool," Mr. Counihan wrote. "And that's why we will continue this review and take any concerns raised about privacy seriously and will work to address them head on."